When my first book was published, I read every single review: the good, the bad, and everything in between. The first mistake I made was to read them while being in the middle of working on my second book in the series. The second mistake I made was to absorb every word and view them as absolute truth, whether they were a constructive or...not so constructive.
I didn't even notice that whenever I read a review, I carried the negative words with me when I sat down to write. When it came to the 4 and 5 star reviews, I took the positive comments to heart, but found myself in panic-mode afterwards. My greatest fear was to create something that didn't live up to the expectations of my new fans. The last thing I wanted was to disappoint them.
By the time I was done with the manuscript (and I use the word 'done' lightly), my voice had been muddled, and the scenes had been created to match other people's wishes instead of my own vision.
After realizing the manuscript didn't line up with the voice and tone of the first book, I, with the help of my devoted agent, began extensive rewrites and the search to recapture my own and my character's voice.
Luckily, the rewrites and hard work paid off and the second book ended up (in my opinion) to be a story that captured the voice of the first book, yet allowed the series to evolve in a natural progression.
However, as the second book came out and as I started the third book in the series, I realized I couldn't allow myself to make the same mistake twice, and there arose the thought that kept me awake night after night.
To read or not to read, that is the question.
The ProsTo read a great review and to get to experience your story through someone else's eyes, is the most amazing feeling for an author and not something I want to rob myself, or any other author of. When a reviewer mentions a section or scene that made them feel the way you'd hoped they would feel, it is the writer's equivalent of hitting a Home Run, Rocky clocking the Russian, and Daniel in the Karate Kid mastering the funny looking, one-legged kick and taking out his black-belted bully.
Then there's the criticism. Although somewhat painful, constructive criticism grounds you as an author and, if taken the right way, pushes you to the next level.
“I would rather be attacked than unnoticed. For the worst thing you can do to an author is to be silent as to his works.”
― Samuel Johnson
“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
The ConsLike I said earlier, to me, the reviewers and critiques have a way of getting inside your head and messing with your creativity. Completing a first draft is hard enough as it is. You're already fighting against your own critical voice, you don't need others'. Good or bad, their voices can become so prominent in your mind that you forget who you are, and what story you were trying to tell in the first place. As an author, your words and your stories are all you have. If those words aim to please everyone and their mother, you'll end up with an incohesive story and bipolar characters.
Lastly, if you do read an unkind review, there is that horrible urge that comes over you where you want to find something sharp and poke your eyes out to ensure that you'll never be able to read another one again.
“The thing people don't realize, God bless them, is that my books are supposed to suck.”
― Stephenie Meyer
“I have spent a good many years since―too many, I think―being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that's all.”
― Stephen King
The ConclusionA few months ago the answer finally dawned on me. I stumbled upon a reviewer who mentioned the setting of my series: Beverly Hills. The review read something along the lines of 'I loved the characters and the plot, but I hate Beverly Hills, so I'm only going to give it two stars.'
I laughed, because, One: it was funny. Two: I truly understood that criticism is paved with a foundation that is made of the reviewer's personal opinions and experiences.
Criticism is, and will always be, a part of the job. If read with proper filtration, reviews make us grow and understand our stories, characters, and readers better. But, like my mom always said: too much of anything is never good.
My opinion of To Read or Not to Read?
Read the reviews...in moderation, and never in the vicinity of sharp objects.
Mia Thompson is the author of an internationally bestselling New Adult Thriller series. Her first two novels, STALKING SAPPHIRE and SILENCING SAPPHIRE, were published by Diversion Books in 2013.